Meet Ali Ingersoll, Ms. Wheelchair America 2023

By Ali Ingersoll | United Spinal Association, August 20, 2022

Ali Ingersoll.

United Spinal Association congratulates our member Ali Ingersoll for being crowned opens in a new window Ms. Wheelchair America. Ingersoll ran on a health insurance advocacy platform.

After a 14-hour drive from Raleigh, North Carolina, my incredible team and I rolled into the Amway Grand Plaza, a beautiful four-star hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Running through my mind was, “competition mode is on.”

Little did I know that within 10 days, I would be crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 and build amazing relationships with 21 wonderful advocates from around the country. In the 12 years since my shallow water diving accident, I had never experienced being surrounded by a group of astonishing women wheelchair users who are all working toward making our society inclusive in different ways.

Our nerves were running high after a long week of workshops, relationship building, and activities when we presented our platform speeches on Friday, August 19. As I listened, I realized every one of my fellow contestants deserved to be crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2023. We each spent the last year as our state titleholders, advocating for change in our communities and at the national level. We were running on adrenaline and sheer exhaustion. I know what many of us go through every day concerning caregiving, grooming, bathing, and medical complications, to name a few.

Living with a disability is challenging enough, but each of us pushed ourselves beyond the limits we believed we were capable of.

The Answer to the Million Dollar Question is Health Insurance Advocacy

Crowning Ceremony night was Saturday, August 20. We all rolled on stage dressed to the nines, our hair done, our makeup flawless, and our gowns perfectly fitted — except for me. Apparently, I was the only one wearing pants. When the presenter announced the five finalists, I started to get nervous. However, I looked around the semi-circle of wheelchairs beautifully organized around the stage and reflected that this experience would be enough even if I did not win the crown. Truly. Each of us fights daily for equity, equality, and inclusion.

My name was called as one of the top five finalists. We rolled to the front of the stage, where the judges gave each of us a lighthearted and serious question. I was asked, “What would you name your book if you were to write one?” I quickly responded, “Normalizing Disability with Dark Humor and Determination,” which happens to be the new tagline of my brand.

The serious question was, “If you had $1 million, what would you do with it?” My platform was Health Insurance Advocacy, so I answered, “While my health insurance advocacy requires determination, persistence, and endless hours of hard work, it does not take money. I would start a foundation to pay for caregivers for all those with severe physical mobility impairments who need a support system around them. I am humbled and blessed to be surrounded by such incredible human beings who care for me and take care of me every day. Everyone should be so fortunate.”

It’s true. When you live with a severe disability, you are only as good as the team around you. How could I have achieved everything without fantastic people around me who don’t just care for me as a job but believe in me and what I am trying to accomplish?

Then only two of us were left on stage, Ms. Wheelchair Michigan Sarah Nassar and me. We all should have taken the crown that night, but I felt pride when my name was announced as the winner. Not just in myself but all the women around me who also dared to run for their own titles and spend an entire week in Grand Rapids for this competition.

The moment that stood out most was when my 76-year-old mother came on stage with me. I have not seen her cry like that in many years. When I broke my neck 12 years ago in a shallow diving accident at our home in the Bahamas, she rolled me over in the water to save my life. Of course, I teared up. Coincidentally, my spinal cord injury anniversary was the next day, August 21.

We Must Fight for Medically Necessary Equipment

My platform, health insurance advocacy, centers around helping people with disabilities fight for medically necessary equipment their insurance companies constantly deny them.

After years of repeated denials, I opens in a new windowtook action and learned to write letters of medical necessity backed up by peer-reviewed journal articles. After a string of successes, I began partnering with organizations around the country to help others get what they need to survive in life and thrive.

I am working on legislation to re-classify adaptive exercise equipment as medically necessary. This battle will be measured in years, not months, requiring a coalition of fantastic advocates like the ones on stage with me. We’ve already been in touch to see how we can each help each other’s advocacy missions.

While my reign as Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 will be focused on health insurance advocacy, my work does not stop there. Over the past year, I switched careers to marry my professional skill sets with my advocacy passions and am now a disability consultant for beautiful organizations around the globe. We focus on supporting people with disabilities to become freelancers and work with corporations to improve products and services and make them more inclusive.

I will travel around the country as Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 in addition to working full time over the next year. It will be a year of intense passion, drive, and likely lack of sleep. But it will be worth every moment.

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